Commentary

League's best to meet at Mohegan Sun

Despite injuries and other absences, All-Star rosters are loaded with talent

Originally Published: July 20, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

The WNBA All-Star Game will be a showcase of the league's best players … who aren't hobbled, still getting back in form after giving birth, or out for the season with something torn or ruptured.

[+] EnlargeJia Perkins
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesSixth-year pro Jia Perkins is averaging 15.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.6 apg for the Sky.

Luckily, that still leaves us with a terrific collection of players. And, actually, a few of the hobbled will still be in the mix. The All-Star reserves were released Monday, and there's a very good chance some of those players are going to get a lot of time.

Because there are injury situations among the starters, including centers Lisa Leslie (Los Angeles), Lauren Jackson (Seattle) and Sylvia Fowles (Chicago). Jackson told the Seattle Times' Jayda Evans that she was seriously thinking about not going to the All-Star Game because of the Achilles injury she is dealing with.

Let's also note that Phoenix's Diana Taurasi was named a reserve for Saturday's game at the Mohegan Sun. I wrote last week that after her alleged DUI offense -- for which she was suspended two games by Phoenix -- she shouldn't play in the All-Star Game but rather use that time to reflect on what happened. And that she should get the maximum suspension that the WNBA's guidelines provide for in regard to such off-court offenses.

Some readers agreed with me, but several didn't. Some were very angry with me and said I was far too harsh. I think being denied a privilege -- which playing in the All-Star Game is -- is not in the same galaxy as the "harsh" things that could have happened in this situation. In fact, taking away a privilege is generally one of the kinder ways to make the point: You really need to examine how and why you did what you did.

The WNBA did not think that, and that's the league's choice to make. It also did not suspend Taurasi beyond the two games she was given by her team. The rest is up to the legal system. I don't have anything more to say about it other than wishing the best for Taurasi and hoping she never gets in another situation like this.

UConn fans will be very happy to see Taurasi and starter Sue Bird, the perennially expected ex-Huskies All-Stars, but they will also see the Storm's Swin Cash, the Sun's Asjha Jones and Charde Houston of the Lynx. Cash is a starter; Jones and Houston are reserves.

Yes, let me repeat that last part: Charde Houston. I would defer to UConn media/fans about this, but I don't think any talented player who got regular minutes ever drove Huskies coach Geno Auriemma crazier than Houston. In fact, I'd guess that some fans just assumed without Geno around to constantly play tug-of-war with her, Houston would flame out.

[+] EnlargeCharde Houston
Ron Hoskins/Getty ImagesFive former UConn Huskies, including second-year pro Charde Houston, will play in the All-Star Game.

But she hasn't; to the contrary, now she's an All-Star in her second season in the WNBA. The first person to be happy about that, no doubt, would be Auriemma. If he didn't think she was that good, he wouldn't have been battling with her to begin with.

Meanwhile, in the eternal UConn-Tennessee war, the All-Star count is five blue-bloods to two orange-bloods (Indiana's Tamika Catchings, a starter, and Minnesota's Nikki Anosike, a reserve). Tennessee fans can counter that Catchings was the leading vote-getter. Long live the enmity.

Anosike and Houston are among six first-time All-Stars named Monday, along with Chicago's Jia Perkins; Atlanta's Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza; and New York's Shameka Christon. There isn't much controversy about people being left off, although Chamique Holdsclaw (Dream), Lindsey Harding (Mystics) and Tammy Sutton-Brown (Fever) are among those who could have been picked but weren't. And the team with the league's worst record, 3-13 Sacramento, has no representatives in the game.

Perkins' story is one of the most intriguing, as she left Texas Tech's team during her senior season of 2003-04 because she was pregnant. Perkins was still selected in the third round of the 2004 WNBA draft (by Charlotte) and after giving birth in June played four games for the Sting. When that franchise disbanded, she ended up in Chicago and at age 27 seems to be really coming into her prime.

I remember Big 12 coaches always talking about how when Perkins was "on," there really was no way to shut her down -- her shot was that quick and accurate. After what surely were some trying times personally for her, it's good to see her reach this pinnacle in basketball.

Also notable among the reserves are Los Angeles' Tina Thompson (eighth All-Star appearance) and Detroit's Katie Smith (seventh). Both are playing on teams that right now are achieving below most expectations, but the All-Star Game will give them some respite from those pressures.

Two of the brightest young stars in the league, L.A.'s Candace Parker and Minnesota's Seimone Augustus, aren't on the roster. Augustus is out for the season with an ACL injury. Parker is working her way back into shape after giving birth to a daughter in May.

However, if Jackson or anyone else can't play in the All-Star Game, the league will name replacement players on Wednesday. Considering her elite status, Parker might be one of those. (That would raise the orange-blood count, of course.)

And among those who will play despite injuries, their time likely will be limited. That's something West coach Dan Hughes and East counterpart Lin Dunn will have to monitor throughout.

The All-Star Game has generally been well-played in the past, certainly to the extent that everyone out there gives effort. Now, the key again will be getting everyone through it unscathed.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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